Over the past two months, I’ve been surrounded by creatures when entering or emerging from national archives repositories in different parts of the world.
OK, maybe not surrounded, but nevertheless, I’ve almost literally bumped into quite a few.
Canberra would have to be the most remote of encounters, restricted to the familiar wheeling of currawongs with their mournful cries. My wife, Andrea, accurately observes that currawongs’ drawn-out, up-and-down call equates to, ‘biig deeaal’. That’s unsupportive of someone busting a gut in records, risking paper cuts to fingers, and trying to make contributions to knowledge. But Canberra has long had academics in its sights. Or maybe the scientists spread the currawongs around the place, just before ARC grant adjudication occurs…
In Ottawa, where long opening hours mean that you can work late, I occasionally staggered out at 8.30 pm to find a groundhog emerged from its hole near the front. Fair enough. Pretty easy to see what’s going on there, with me trumping up again to the archives, day after day, same times, same place.
Now in New Delhi, the trend continues. After a frustrating day at the National Archives, I walked out to have a monkey stroll past me. Monkeys up close trouble me. Their calculating eyes suggest they are constantly trying to figure out how to take advantage of you. But this one kept strolling to chew on an empty juice box discarded nearby. Monkey, bad day at archives, yep there’s probably a connection there.
The next day I was at the Nehru Memorial Library where a resplendent male peacock accompanied me to the front door. This was going to be a good day – and it was mostly pretty good, especially compared to those monkeyed National Archives the day before. Then, back at the National Archives there was a frog sitting out front; then back at Nehru Memorial Library a monkey during my lunch break.
Then it struck me. I’d been myopically linking these encounters to my own researching fortunes, but the bigger picture was the more important. This was a trend. We were going to have to expect competition from creatures in archives use henceforth. Just as the subaltern history movement raided the archives to write back at their colonial writers of history, so too would creatures, in the age of the Anthropocene, storm the records holdings to write against the grain of anthropocentric history.
The crittercal archives movement had begun.
The archives bring a new perspective to many things, critters especially. Photo credit: David Lowe